Prologue: A Bedtime Story
The sensation of footprints in the earth below... whiskers prodding into earthen walls... the scent of grass wafting in from the passage to the left. It was these things that guided the little blue lump of spikes attempting to press forward from the depths of the burrow.
She stumbled and fell forward, stunned for a moment, but soon regained her bearings and got up. Flattening out her ears and shaking a few small spines loose, she continued on, grumbling softly about the dumb ledge that tripped her up.
Her annoyance was quickly pushed out of her mind after catching a whiff of dew from the end of the tunnel, and more importantly, spotted a faint light marking the moon outside.
The little creature crept up the claustrophobic tunnel little-by-little, with nary a peep, and reached a reed-woven mat just beyond its opening. There, she took a quick inventory.
Four legs, two ears, two protruding teeth at the end of her muzzle. No scratches or loose barbs from her clumsy trek up the tunnel... well, none that would worry her more than her mother, anyhow. From the light of the heavens above, she could verify that her fur was still a light blue. Yep, she had all the markings of a healthy, if still rather young Nidoran.
Around her... there was the mailbox on a wooden post next to the burrow. Throughout the sparsely wooded hillside were a few mats with accompanying posts spread before trees and other holes, or sometimes laid out as places of rest for the various Pokémon who currently slept on them. The distant crashing of waves could be heard, intertwined with faint sounds of forest nightlife. Down the hill, nearer to the coast, a small town of shacks, tents and the like had been erected.
But the attention and senses of the little Nidoran were tuned elsewhere that night.
She reared up on her hind legs and turned her gaze skyward. Somewhere in that beautiful, glittering mess- around the moon, between the stars, and the twists and bends of the Rainbow Road- were the drifting ones- little stars that moved slowly and without tails. Her mother told her that some of the Pokémon in town called them the "Travelers" and that, through some contrivance, you could tell what time of the night it was based off of where they were.
But most importantly, she said, if you were up at just the right moment, you could see one, perhaps peeking out from behind the moon.
"Come on, where is it?"
She looked up at the moon... and then above it. Then below it. Then, to its left. To its right. Back at the Nidoran in the moon staring down at the world again. But still, she couldn't find her star.
"...Maybe I heard the story wrong?"
The Nidoran pouted a bit and punted a pebble that had found its way onto the mat. She was about to return to the burrow when the thought crossed her to check the shape of the moon. Perhaps her "Traveler" was still peeking from behind it.
She started from the top, and slowly followed its contour around from the left. It was the same old moon, giving off its same old white glow. The same old Nidoran on its face was still staring down quietly on the world below. Yep, it was the same moon she had seen many a night before.
Except for the ever-so-small bump on the right of it.
The Nidoran tilted her ears and focused on the bump. It seemed like a rather insignificant speck, except slightly growing, stretching a bit from the moon's face. And suddenly, the speck broke free from the moon, and it all became clear to the little creature.
"Wow! They really do come-"
"Going somewhere?!" a deeper voice barked.
Before the Nidoran could turn around, she found herself lifted from the ground by the scruff of her neck. As she flailed in protest, she was brought away from the night sky and back into the inky depths of the burrow. Her captor took her effortlessly back along the route she had so carefully traced out to the surface, and unceremoniously dumped her into a straw nest shared by a handful of her fellow blue and purple spike balls.
After the Nidoran's captor released their grip on the back of her neck, she shook off some saliva and finally whirled around to come face to face with a rather unimpressed-looking Nidorina staring down at her, wearing a white scarf with a blue whirlpool design.
"Really, Nida, just how deaf do you think I am?" the Nidorina whispered sternly.
The Nidorina gestured to the Nidoran's siblings, all of them in the embrace of sleep, if somewhat loosely. She flicked her ears, and narrowed her eyes to continue her quiet admonishment.
"It's not healthy for a young kit like you to be up into the early morning! Rest will let you grow healthy and strong."
"But I was just headed out to see the Travelers-!", Nida protested.
"Is that why you forgot this on your way out?"
Her mother held up a small scarf bearing the same design as her own. Nida shrank a bit in embarrassment. After all, the importance of wearing her scarf was constantly lectured about. It was the the thing that allowed any Pokémon to identify who you were and where you belonged… and she had forgotten it on her way out the burrow.
Her mother sighed, and placed the scarf back at the base of the nest alongside a small number of others before turning back to her child.
"Sleep is a blessing, mija. Having enough of it keeps you from making foolish missteps like that."
"But how am I supposed to sleep if you don't tell me a story?" the Nidoran demanded.
"Nida," said the Nidorina, her ears and countenance not-so-subtly hinting at a desire to return to her own nest.
"Well?" Nida persisted.
The Nidorina sized up her daughter, and the other siblings dozing around her, and after giving an irked sigh, decided that dealing with one small and rambunctious spike ball was enough at this hour.
"Fine. Which one do you want this time? The Nidoran in the Moon? The time I fought and beat the cheating Dragonite? Another Warriors of Light tale?"
Nida perked up, buoyed by her small victory in staving off bedtime, and thought about just what she wanted to hear.
"I wanna hear the story about the humans, and why they don't live with Pokémon like us anymore," she replied.
"Nida, haven't you heard that story from the Day Care enough times by now?" the Nidorina asked exasperatedly.
"It's different when you tell it."
"I suppose I'll need to start from the beginning, then," the Nidorina sighed, as she drew her daughter's attention to a patch of dirt that she began to move a foreclaw over.
"A long, long time ago, longer than any Pokémon can remember, there lived a peculiar type of creature. One that had not been given strength in their bodies by the gods as we Pokémon have," the Nidorina said as she began to sketch some tall pylons in the dirt.
"In its place, the gods gave them the power to see and understand mysteries, questions, and engimas... to think in ways completely different to the way you or I would. To bring dreams to life, and to work wonders and impossibilities from the world around them, including from its Pokémon."
The pylons were then crossed, forming a scene of boxlike towers, each piling up against the other.
"The gods saw it fit to make them mediators of Pokémon. Their lack of strength was filled by that of Pokémon that joined them. In return, they provided food, shelter, and companionship. As the gods tended to the world, this mediation was to provide bounty to the order they guarded."
"And they built cities of glass and metal, and rolling boxes that could cross islands in minutes, and planted fields that stretched across the horizon, and-" Nida began to recount.
"Hey now, who's telling the story here? You or me?" the Nidorina interjected while sketching a star in the corner of her picture.
"It was an order that brought out the best of both Pokémon and humans," she continued, "But for some, it simply wasn't enough."
The Nidorina moved on to crudely sketch some figures in the dirt. A few birds, others that looked vaguely like horses, and a few squiggly serpents.
"In their arrogance, some of the Pokémon that dwelt among the humans decided that the gods were superfluous, that they would know better how to manage our world. Thus they declared war on the gods to take their place. It was a pitiful chapter that would have surely been thwarted and forgotten… But everything changed when the Star of Destruction shone from above."
Nida watched as her mother raked her claws over the scene, their impressions coming from the star in the corner and piercing through the towers and crude figures.
"The fiends had made a dark construct, which upon shining its light, pierced the gods and slew them. Thunder, wind, rain, land, sea, earth… all gone. So the slaughter went up to the three attendants of Arceus."
"And then that's when everything went wrong?"
It was then that Nidorina obliterated her painstakingly drawn scene with a barrage of poisonous spikes from her ruff, causing Nida to flinch for a moment.
"Well, what do you know of what happened, mija?"
"The seas rotted, destruction rained from the heavens, the land became dead and filled with ash and distortion hidden in fog... Like the Mystery Dungeon on the other side of the island. That's how the Wastes were formed," Nida dutifully recited.
"Well, is that the end of it?"
"It isn't?" Nida asked, as she gave a puzzled head tilt as to what her mother could be implying.
"Silly kit, I would hope that our home isn't in such a sad state!"
"Oh! Ahehe, right," Nida replied as she turned her attention to a new patch of dirt where her mother began to draw a triangle, and then a circumscribing circle.
"From there, Arceus saw that there were still points of light in the darkness. Places where the blight the Star of Destruction had caused had not yet touched. But in order for life to remain at all in this world, these places would need to be kept separate and protected."
"And that's how our island was made?" Nida asked, as the Nidorina began to draw three circles around the points of the triangle.
"That's how all of the islands were made, mija. Bits and pieces of the old world that Arceus pried from its dying husk with his thousand arms and placed into this sea, the sea that we call the Cradle."
Nida continued to watch her mother add more and more circles onto the design in the dirt. It was apparently some manner of important symbol, but that was surely a story for another time. Even so… There was something that the little Nidoran couldn't help but wonder after hearing her mother's words that she hadn't thought about the times when her ears heard this tale before.
"But wait, if humans acted as mediators for Pokémon… Who mediates for the Pokémon that came here?"
"At first, there was no one," the Nidorina replied, "And the Cradle was but a mass of feuding creatures of different kinds and different minds… Until our world's creator set down the Compact that governs our world to this day."
"A… Compact?" Nida yawned.
"The Pokémon that lived without humans, the 'ferals' as you've probably heard them called, were free to continue to live on as they did in the past. Growing, breeding, and dying with the course of nature. They were to be left to live without interference from outsiders, but at the expense of giving up the right to interfere in the lives of those outsiders. It is why the predators among the ferals do not dare to consider you or your brothers and sisters as meals…
Or at least not ones that don't have a death wish."
Nida yawned again more audibly, which caused the Nidorina to shift and lick a paw before continuing on, keenly noticing that her child was at last beginning to grow drowsy.
"As for the humans that remained, the world that remained was too fragile for them, and their role as mediators was given to others to carry out until the world was restored to the way it once was," the Nidorina continued as she watched Nida begin to progressively fidget less and less as sleep neared the Nidoran.
"Others? What are you talking about?"
"Silly, it fell upon the Pokémon that lived among humans to take up their mantle. To become mediators among our different kinds. To aid them, they were given four gifts…
"The gift of writing, to allow them to preserve what knowledge of the humans had not been lost.
"The gift of gummis, to free them from the hunger forcing their ranks against each other.
"The spirits of the departed gods, who remained in the night skies as the Travelers you and I can see today.
"And lastly, the gift of pacting, in which a Pokémon could make cause with another and join their ranks. To bury past fears and resentments together and live the same life. Friend, foe, feral, it matters not. As long as there is one to ask and there is one to respond."
The Nidorina couldn't help but sigh contently as she watched her daughter start to settle into the straw of the nest along with her siblings. It had been a long tale, but her goal of putting the little scamp to sleep was almost realized.
"What about the Pokémon that went to war with the gods? What happened to them?" Nida asked, which elicited a pause from her mother before she responded to her daughter's question.
"The ones that did not die in the chaos they caused were allowed to come in as a mercy. In return, they, and their children, would forever bear the mark of the star they created, so that no one would ever forget. They became the Pokémon that the others call the 'Marked'."
Almost immediately, the Nidorina regretted bringing the topic up as Nida immediately perked up at attention, on guard from her mother's words of these surely ill-meaning Pokémon still being around.
"Shh… Shh... Don't dwell upon it too much, they're far from capable of mounting a war against much of anything these days. And even if they somehow did, they would be hard pressed against the last thing that Arceus left."
"What's that?" the Nidoran asked, starting to settle down again.
"A hope. When the Cradle was made, new gods were created and left to sleep until they were needed. Why, even here, on tiny little Tromba Island, we have a protector sleeping somewhere hidden away.
And as they all wake up, the world we live in will start to be restored to the way it used to be. And eventually, the humans too will come back."
"Is that why those Pokémon… the Rescue Teams. Is that why they work so hard in that Mystery Dungeon?" Nida yawned.
"Well… It's a bit more mundane than that. Our island's protector is somewhere in there, but so are a lot of the things that our town uses to get by. And it's not a safe place, so there need to be Pokémon to help protect those that go in doing imprudent things… Like little kits going out without their scarves."
"Mami, I get it," Nida groaned in annoyance, as her eyelids began to fall.
"But all in all, they're there to give help to Pokémon when they need it most."
"I wish that I could be a Pokémon like that…" said Nida, as her red eyes finally drooped shut and she drifted off to sleep.
- Mami - Spanish: "mother", "mommy"
- mija - Spanish: "my daughter", used in a sense akin to "dearie" or "sweetie"